How this money story affected my business (and how it's changed)
An invitation to challenge our stories + a bumper crop of favourites
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Last month I found myself mentally running in circles around money, without any real, external, reason. I thought I’d uncovered where my feelings and thoughts about money come from, but suddenly remembered a situation that I’d forgotten all about. Thinking through it showed me how much this experience shaped how I approach money in my life and in my business.
In this post, I’ll share this money story with you and how I’ve been challenging it in my business and private life. I also invite you to explore some of your own money stories and begin to approach your ideas about money from a place of trust rather than fear or scarcity.
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The summer of 2007
As a child, I remember that whenever my mum and dad discussed the family finances with each other, it felt grim, scarce to me—even though I grew up in a solidly middle-class family and didn’t experience poverty.
Thirty years later, I now know that my dad inherited his own stress and fear about money, and that he grew up in a family where some of the things he wanted, like going to university, were financially not possible. For the past couple of years I’ve been very consciously trying to recognise that his money stories aren’t mine—and that I can create my own.
And then, I remembered something else. A situation I found myself in in my early twenties that told me that money is fundamentally unpredictable, that it’s important to be in control of money, that savings are not meant to be spent and which made me question whether I can actually be trusted with money at all.
In my mid-twenties I’d been working at my first “real” job for two years while still living at home. Although I paid a tiny bit of rent to my parents, most of my money was mine to spend.
And spend it I did. I can’t remember the details and don’t even really know for how long this went on—probably only a few months—but I do remember how I kept transferring money from my savings account into my checking account to make up for the money I was spending. It felt like I was trying to fill a bottomless hole of my own creation. Knowing myself, very little of that spending was truly extravagant: books, probably, clothes, probably. I attended a conference in the US in the early summer of 2007 and paid for the flight and a fancy hotel (which I very much enjoyed). But I felt out of control in that summer of 2007 and knew something had to change.
I asked my dad for help. I told him that I’d been spending more money than I made and that I’d been making up for it by taking money from my savings account. My dad replied like you’d want him to reply: he certainly wasn’t angry and I can’t remember him being disappointed. He suggested making a spreadsheet together in which I would track my spending.
And that was that. I don’t remember feeling like he was checking on me afterwards and I also can’t remember him saying much about it after that summer. But the conclusions I drew from that situation have stayed with me ever since.
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What this money story told me and how it affected my business
Thinking back on this situation, I realised that I drew a couple of conclusions from it at the time, which filtered through into my life for the next 10+ years.
The first was that it’s important to have control of money. Tracking my spendings has served me well at various points in my life, especially when I was learning to earn and spend money in my mid-twenties and when I moved out to live on my own.
But the idea that money needs to be controlled has been harmful to me as well. It feeds into feelings of scarcity, of having to hoard money, of being afraid to run out of it. Of feeling like money in itself is unpredictable and that even though I might track it, unexpected financial things could still happen and I need to be prepared for everything.
I’m only slowly coming to terms with the fact that there is no such thing as real control in life (and that this can be a really good thing too). I’m reminding myself that money simply is. It’s neither good nor bad. I’ve tried for years to satisfy my desire for control by building up my savings, which has been a privilege and nice in many ways. But it’s also meant feeling that there is no such thing as enough money, which has made me feel cramped and stressed, especially in my business.
With my desire for control it’s ironic that I decided to start my own business. As a small business owner, I can’t count on a reliable sum of money appearing in my account every month. My income fluctuates from month to month, which I’m learning to be fine with. I realised that my desire for financial control, robbed me of joy in my business. I would no longer feel creative, or in the mood for experimentation. I wouldn’t even be truly happy if I made money. I would just continue to feel stress and scarcity.
The second conclusion I drew in the summer of 2007 was that savings are not meant to be spent. It took me years to realise that I held this belief—and that it caused me stress. When J and I were at the bank to discuss the mortgage for our first home in 2017, the man we spoke to asked me “So what are you saving for?”. I was baffled by that question. No one had ever asked me what I was saving for. I had just internalised the idea that savings are good, spending is bad. Of course the real answer to the question was “for when everything falls to pieces”. Too puzzled to say anything but “I don’t know”, the banker started talking about investments, real estate and more.
But his question stayed with me. What am I saving for?
Since that meeting I’ve slowly started to challenge myself. I realised that I was afraid of spending any of my savings and couldn’t even enjoy having them. I simply felt that they were never enough.
When I was able to pay for a yoga teacher training with my savings last year I for the first time felt joy first and foremost, rather than fear or judgement. In 2022 I started a freedom fund for my business, in which I’m saving up a couple of months worth of income for slower times or illness. J and I bought a new sofa last week and his joy about simply being able to pay for this from our savings was infectious. Yes, it is so cool and such a joy (and privilege) to be able to pay for this.
I like having a buffer in my savings for illness or slow months in my business. But I no longer need to see my savings as “never enough”, or as some sort of apocalypse insurance.
The final conclusion, and the one that has shaped my behaviour in my business most explicitly, was that I couldn’t trust myself with money. When I spoke to my dad in the summer of 2007 about spending more money than I made, I didn’t really know where the money went. Aside from that trip to the conference, there were no big purchases. I didn’t buy luxury items or develop an expensive hobby. The money just went out the door. Not really knowing where the money went made me feel irresponsible. Combined with my belief that I had to control money and that saving was better than spending, I felt like I couldn’t be trusted with money.
When you’re holding beliefs around money and scarcity, it’s really hard to trust that you’ll make good financial choices. For me, in the end it all boiled down to something I wrote about months ago: yes, I can assume that bad things are going to happen in the future, but I have as much evidence for this as I have for the idea that good things are going to happen. Namely zero. So I might as well assume that good things will happen, which makes for a considerably more pleasant ride.
Over the past year I’ve been gently challenging the belief that I can’t be trusted with money in two ways.
The first was to make a list of all the times in which I showed that I can be trusted with money. When J and I bought our house, for instance, and I did much of the admin. When I spent money on things that give me deep joy, like the yoga teacher training. When I began to create my freedom fund. The aim of this list was to challenge the idea that I formed in 2007: that I was bad with money and made bad choices. My list showed me that that’s not true.
As I’m continuing to reduce my hours at my part-time teaching job, worries about money and trust in myself still come up. The most effective thing for me to combat that is to come back to the question I asked months ago: “What if I were to approach this situation from a place of trust? What would it look like to offer myself grace here?”.
I’ve never been big on affirmations, but I’ve found writing down positive scenarios—approaching a situation from the trust that it will work out—surprisingly powerful. It feels empowering and reminds me that there is more than one way of looking at my ideas about money.
Finally, talking about my money stories with friends and other business owners helps so much too. As with many worries or harmful stories, once we get them out of of our own head, once we expose them to the light and oxygen, space is freed up inside of us. We feel less alone and less judgemental towards ourselves.
Take a moment to think or journal about these questions:
Which money stories are you carrying? What beliefs did you internalise from your upbringing or childhood?
Which formative experiences with money have you had? What did they tell you?
How are these money stories and experiences influencing how you run your business?
What would you like to gently challenge and shift?
This post ended up being considerably longer and more personal than I planned it to be 😅 But I think it’s important to address the money stories that we all carry: yours might look similar, or different, but recognising is the first step to changing them. We can make our own stories. More of my posts on money this way.
I’d love to know how you feel about money stories. Which money stories do you carry and where do they come from? How might you challenge them gently to be kinder to yourself and create your own? Leave a comment below to join to conversation.
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a necklace | I am turning 40 later this month which feels amazing to me. I celebrated myself by treating myself to a mini-acorn necklace created by jewellery designer (and friend) Alice Hibbert. I love the symbolism of the acorn from which big trees grow and am loving wearing it (as I love wearing the whelk-necklace that I bought from Alice late last year).
generational stories | As I was writing this post, Amy’s newsletter on generational stories popped into my inbox. It’s an exploration on recognising and challenging the stories we’ve inherited that resonated with me. I’ve been supporting Amy with setting up her Substackand other business goals for the past months and it’s been a true joy to do (scroll down to see how I can support you too).
a podcast | I had a lovely long conversation withon her podcast, talking all things Substack and, in the second episode, leaving social media.
“weeds are not a moral failing” | For anyone who gardens—and anyone who doesn’t—this conversation betweenand is such a delight to listen to/read. I’ve been nodding along throughout.
physical comfort | This month I’ve been reminded again how much emotional comfort I get from finding physical comfort. A blanket, a book, earbuds and a cup of tea soothe my nervous system like nothing else.
What’s on your lists of favourites this month? What did you read, see, hear, drink, eat, observe that made your day?
This month I supported clients with launching their Substack newsletter, creating and launching a new service in their business and making long-term plans for their business.
I’d love to support you to do this and much more too: to create a business away from the norm that supports all parts of your humanness, whether that means starting or building a business alongside a family, another job, (chronic) illness or any other needs and desires.
There is a slower, gentler and more profitable way of running a business, and I’m here to help you achieve it.
Have a really good, calm rest of your week 💌 Paid subscribers will get a behind-the-scenes post on my business journey in their inboxes next week + a discussion thread. I’ll be back later this month with a regular newsletter on following the magic and celebrating an exciting milestone with you. I can’t wait. ✨
Until next time xx
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